Behind Walls

Museum Pick: March 9 - 23, 2009

Step into the crowded Dar Taliba, a girls' dormitory in rural Morocco. Photographer Amy Thompson takes you behind the walls that separate girls from the public space of boys and men. All the photographs are unposed and made with available light on film. Follow along with this slide show and discover a hidden world of reading, prayer, sports, whispers and the universal dramas of adolescent years.

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Behind Walls is a documentary essay about life at a girls' dormitory in rural Morocco in 2004. Supported by a Fulbright grant, I arrived to the country as reforms to the Moudawana, or Islamic family law, were in the process of being pushed through parliament. The young King Mohammed VI was placing women's rights and education at the forefront of the national dialogue.

The challenge of educating girls is especially acute in the countryside, where, because of economic limitations and cultural traditions, illiteracy for women can reach as high as 90 percent. The national average is around 60 percent. To combat the problem, dormitories have been built near secondary schools as part of a national initiative to help girls in remote areas continue their education.

As the Moroccan king said in a message at the World Summit of Women in 2003, "We have focused our interest, first, on rural women, the group most affected by the ills of illiteracy and poverty--two issues I firmly believe are at the heart of human rights, just as they may constitute structural obstacles to democracy."

I wanted to take an intimate look at the everyday lives of ordinary girls who were taking part in this historic process. I also hoped to reconnect with the country where I had lived for years as a young girl, when my father served as the U.S. military attaché to Morocco.

My exploration led me to the Dar Taliba, a girls' dormitory located in southern Morocco, in El Hanchane, a small dusty town between the tourist spots of Marrakesh and Essaouira. Although the dormitory was designed for sixty students, one hundred and eleven girls boarded there. They were between the ages of 13 and 18. Some went home on the weekends, while many others, because of finances or distance, stayed at the dormitory for weeks at a time.

I photographed at the dormitory for several months, spending much of my time getting to know the students. We played volleyball, worked on their French homework, shared meals and slept next to each other in the bunks. Late at night, we danced and talked about boyfriends and secrets.

This project is available for on-the-ground exhibitions. See the complete project on Amy Thompson's Web site.


(8) | Add your Comment


morocco, girls' education, literacy, democracy, islam , , illiteracy, human rights


Really beautiful images, Amy!

Alia Kate
Alia Kate
United States

Beautiful pictures, Amy! It's great to see someone doing well-thought out and carefully researched photography in Morocco!

I think I may have arrived in Morocco right after you lived there, but I worked with an association that fought against child labor through education. Right now Project Adros is heavily involved in supporting similar dormitories for young girls in rural areas, so I really applaud your efforts to uncover this less well-known, yet equally prevalent side of Moroccan society.

Keep up the good work!

I love

United States

Great, moving.


just amazing!
Perfect is the word!

Mukta Gupta
United States

I love your pictures, they have captured the innocence and beauty of spirits behind walls!


Reem Hammad
Reem Hammad
United States

Thank you. This is a beautiful photo exhibit and documentary about women students in Morocco. Lovely!

Amy Thompson
Amy Thompson
United States

I'm so pleased to share the story of these girls I spent time with in Morocco. Thank you for taking the time to view it. It looks like you are all doing important work yourselves. Thanks for your comments.
-Amy Thompson


I am deeply touched by the beauty of your images. Thank you.

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